[Review] Dungeon Crawl Classics Core Rulebook Pt. III: …& Sorcery

There are 716 wizard spells. No more, no less. This number is known because Leetore the Limicker, a great mage of the fourth aeon, successfully contacted a somnolent elder god that sussurated several secrets (in limerick form, of course) before drowsing off forever. It is the measure of success for every wizard to fill his spell book with as many of these 716 spells as can be found in his lifetime.
– DCC Core Rulebook, Chapter Five: Magic.

Sorcery is a fickle and dangerous tool in DCC, not like the wizardry of olden games. It is both more potent and more dangerous and can exact a hefty toll on mind, body and even the soul!

There is no longer any fucking around with domains, spheres or schools, clerical magic is thrown together under the banner of Idol magic (divine magic) and sorcery is broadly grouped under Enchantment, Elemental magic and Black Magic. This lack of codification is probably a thematic nod to DCC’s more S & S take on sorcery as a whole. Mysterious, mercurial, potent and unpredictable. This is further augmented by the Mercurial Magic rule.
In short, each time a wizard learns a spell, he must roll a d100 + his luck modifier times 10% on the Mercurial magic table (about 80 different results, 41-60 means no change), which adds requirements or extra effects to the spell so that Bob’s Charm Person will feel different from Hank’s Charm person. These effects can vary from Extremely Shit (Every time you cast the spell someone important to you dies, casting the spell attracts a swarm of stinging insects, saving throw or fall into a coma for 1 day per spell level etc.) to neutral (Spell causes Fear in animals, hair grows 1′, transform into opposite gender for 24 hours, spell works worse at night and better at day or vice versa etc.) to really great/weird (spell spawns legion of illusionary multidimensional dopplegangers as per mirror image, each time spell causes deaths of thousands somewhere in the multiverse and caster is contacted by ancient sorcerer king beseeching him to stop, spell generates temporary psychic shield when cast for AC and saving throw bonus and so on and so forth).
A very interesting take that should provide inspirational material, flavour and ample cackling.

Major changes to the tried and true Vancian model first. Each time you a spell, be ye Wizard or Cleric, you must roll the trusted Dodecahedron Plus thine Caster Level ande Relevant Ability Modifier, tool of seasoned adventurers and greybeards throughout the land, and only should thee reach a DC of ten plus Twice! the level of the Spell thou art trying to cast, doth thou cast it properly. The saving throw DC is equal to the spellroll.
If you are a wizard you should feel like shit rolling under the DC, because it means your spell is lost from your memory and you must suffer the embaressment of an 8 hour rest before you may rememorize it. If you are a Cleric you need not fear because God loves you and failing a roll will merely increase your chance of divine displeasure (which normally occurs on a 1) by 1.
At higher levels this construction gets a little wonky, given the fact you only lose spells if you roll 10-11 total or lower. High level wizards (8+) with slightly above average intelligence are thus very unlikely to lose their spells upon repeated castings, barring a natural 1. This is more of a niggling annoyance then a hard objection given the fact most of the game will be taking place at levels 1-5 but still.

It sounds like the cleric is getting the long end of the stick but the wizard has one very potent advantage. He may offer part of his soul to his otherwordly patron or burn the very substance of his body by temporarily burning physical ability score points (brand himself, pull out his hair, incant his own true name etc.) for a +1 on the roll for each point lost, which return at a rate of 1 per day. Alternatively, 20 points may be sacrificed for the mother of all wizardly alpha strikes (or omega strikes) so the result automatically counts as a natural 20. It is even possible to regain lost spells via spellburn at the paltry sum of 1 point per level of the spell. Sadly, it is made clear that the cleric would be unwise to use his power to heal this lost ability score damage since this act of personal sacrifice for selfish goals is incompatible with the goals of his divine patron.

Rolling a natural 1 as a wizard sucks and can be very dangerous. While all spells have their own unique misfires and corruption effects, some general effects are of provided. Black Magic is of course, naturally Corruptive and thus corruption occurs more often, and higher level spells are similarly more perilous. It should come as no suprise that the roll is modified by Luck. These effects can be debilitating but relatively harmless (i.e your Animal Summoning causes your face to take on some of the aspects of the animals you tried to summon) to seriously debilitating (stat loss). In rare cases, corruption can have a beneficial effect, but the net result is that experienced wizards will tend more towards Ningauble of the Seven Eyes, Voldemort or Emperor Palpaltine then Gandalf. I applaud the astonishing variety and unique corruption effects for 86 UNIQUE SPELLS (and 15 more Patron spells but that too needs to be explained below).

Misfires vary from spell to spell. To give you an example, this is for Charm Person.

Misfire (1d4): Roll 1d4: (1) caster falls in love with intended target; (2) 1d4 randomly determined nearby creatures fall in love with each other; (3) caster inadvertently puts intended target to sleep (Will save to resist); (4) target is not charmed but instead repulsed and angered by caster.

Interesting, exciting, thematically appropriate. And so on and so forth.

Divine displeasure works along similar lines but usually manifests itself as a penalty that will only dissapear if some form of contrition is shown. Sometimes the deity will merely afflict his impertinent follower with some form of penalty as a test of faith, but often times some act is required to avert divine wrath, such as recruiting a new follower, one hour of prayer, healing the crippled or a sacrifice of great material wealth. The consequences for Divine displeasure are relatively mild at first, but tend to get worse as the chance of incurring it increase.

Additional deviation from the Vancian system, not unwelcome, is access to spells. Pity the poor Wizard, virtually unstoppable at later levels given an adequate library of spells in the old game. Here he may only learn a fixed amount of spells as he levels up. The reason the DCC Wizard is still covetous of the grimoires of his peers is that this way he may actually choose what spell he learns the next level (otherwise he may only determine the level, the rest is chosen randomly). To add further niggling complications, a roll must be passed for the spell to be learned that level (otherwise a different, randomly selected spell may be learned). In a merciful concession to actual gameplay, if you roll up a wizard with 4 shit spells DCC allows you to just pick one half of them (No Neville Longbottom with Cantrip, Comprehend Languages, Mending and Feather Fall).

There is so much shit to cover! Perfect guidelines are given for lengthy arcane rituals involving weeks or months of preparation and such classic concepts as rare components, sacrifices, voluntary corruption and so on and so forth but DCC pulls a “To be continued…” and hints at more elaborate rules in a forthcoming volume (that has yet to materialize if I am not mistaken). The outline is sufficient to kickstart you into your own ritual rule creation though if you are me you would simply handwave that shit or make up unique conditions for each ritual or whatever.

The spells themselves, both arcane and divine, should be immediately familiar to anyone who has played any of the older ( hairier and more masculine) versions of DnD with a few interesting new spells. Alongside variants of tried and true favourites like Colour spray, Charm person and Fireball the game will throw the odd moorcock/Vance inspired curveball like Eternal Champion (yes, you may summon the Eternal Champion from across the planes, is this not wunderbar?) or Nythuul’s Porcupine Coat but overall, it still resembles the DnD we know and love to a very strong degree.
In a wonderful concession to flavour, each spell is given several descriptive manifestations from which the player may choose or, of course, roll randomly. A general effect is given with variations on this effect as the casters roll increases. A score of 11-13 on Flaming Hands (heh) means a tiny blast of fire that strikes a single target for 1d3 damage while a score of 30 for the same spell means two 30 foot by 10 foot lines that deal 3d6+CL damage for example. This means that while your spell selection will be limited, each spell tends to remain viable for the entirety of the game (unlike say, the exquisite Sleep spell in old D&D, which will eventually diminish in utility as the opposition gains in HD).
This format tends to be the rule but there are exceptions. Some spells have radically different effects depending on the score (but in this case you may usually choose to voluntarily trigger a lesser effect). The spell Ekim’s mystical mask, for example, can function as many different spells, from infravision to gaze protection to horrid visage.
Sometimes a spell is not truly a spell at all but instead represents an arcane ritual to specialize in certain forms of magic, forge magic items, find familiars and form supernatural pacts with horrid supernatural patrons. Spells go up to 5th level but a spell in DCC tends to be more versatile and potentially far more powerful then its DnD counterpart, thus all is well.

For some reason wizards in DCC do not automatically begin the game with Read Magic, which, given the fact one needs it in order to learn spells nonrandomly when one levels up, seems a rather brutal omission, though it is easily fixed. If I must bitch some more, a lot of spells like Patron Bond and Spell Affinity have permanent effects on the caster, making it almost automatically worth it to spellburn 20 ability score points and get an automatic crit success (that is a natural 20 + relevant ability score + twice your CL muthafucka). A good (meaning merciless and vicious) GM would of course make use of the wizard’s vulnerability during this period and arrange for an attack of some kind.

DCC’s take on magic is nice but a drawback is space, a single spell desciption takes up a page, sometimes more, causing this section to be very fucking long, the longest in the book in fact. Overall, there is enough innovation to make the section worthwhile whilst maintaining enough similarity with the original game to be recognisably DnD. There is something of the loss of a tactical element by eliminating the ability of the wizard to memorize multiple instances of the same spell but this does have its up-side. I suspect most wizards in DnD gravitate towards a sort of optimum spell set where they will generally memorize spells likely to be useful in multiple situations. This means that spells like Locate Object or Gust of Wind are unlikely to see much use except in very specific situations. Under the current system, I expect to see way more creative use of such spells.

More about patrons, campaigning in DCC and other bric-a-brac in the next installment.

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